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Dell partners: Program shows promise

The new Dell partner program, PartnerDirect, is a promising step in Dell's transition from direct sales to the channel, according to partners.

The new Dell partner program is off to a good start, but it will take time to develop and work out inevitable kinks, according to partners.

PartnerDirect, announced last week, is the first official partner program for Dell, a company that built its success on a direct-sales model. It features new benefits for partners -- including deal registration, certifications and short-term financing -- and formalizes other longstanding practices between Dell and its solution providers.

"Back in the day it was more adversarial," said Glen Jodoin, vice president of operations for GreenPages Technology Solutions in Kittery, Maine. "We were more competitive than we are now."

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GreenPages has worked with Dell for five years and has had a close partnership for the past two. When Dell first offered to expand the partnership, its reputation in direct sales led GreenPages executives to keep the company "at arm's length," Jodoin said. "There's a history, and there's a lot to overcome."

Now Jodoin is optimistic that the Dell partner program will help the company develop a channel-friendly reputation.

"No matter how good your programs are, you're going to need upper-level management to drive home corporate priorities," he said. "At the end of the day, are they really going to support the program? We believe they are, but the proof is in the future."

Alpheon Corp., a managed service provider (MSP) in Morrisville, N.C., has also had a positive experience working with Dell, according to president and CEO Greg Donovan. Even before Dell announced PartnerDirect, Donovan was seeing improvements to the online ordering system and partner support process.

"I expect that to get better as they put more money into the program," he said.

But partners do acknowledge that there could be some bumps along the road as Dell puts its partner program into actual practice. One of those potential problem areas is the deal registration program, designed to reduce competition among Dell and its partners.

Under PartnerDirect, solution providers can register deals worth more than $75,000 and then have 60 days to close. That means value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs) who make a lot of smaller deals and work in competitive markets could still face competition from Dell and other partners, said Bob Guilbert, the managing director for Eze Castle Integration in Boston.

"It's going to take a bit of time for Dell to iron that out," he said.

Donovan agreed that deal registration could cause some problems, but, he added, "I'm positive that [Dell is] willing to listen to partners."

For partners that do a lot of large deals, like Eze Castle, deal registration is a key feature of PartnerDirect.

"Deal registration is important to us, in terms of protecting channel partners," Guilbert said. "It's something that will have a positive impact immediately."

Another PartnerDirect highlight is the certifications that Dell is offering in specific areas. The first two are managed services and enterprise architecture. Certified partners will receive extra benefits from the Dell partner program, and being able to tout your business's Dell certifications is "another feather in your cap," Donovan said.

After announcing PartnerDirect last Wednesday, Dell took part in another conference call Friday to assure partners of EqualLogic -- a Nashua, N.H.-based storage vendor whose acquisition was announced last month -- that Dell will bring the two partner programs together with as few disruptions as possible.

Dell's new focus on the channel makes that pledge more believable, Jodoin said. GreenPages is also an EqualLogic partner.

"We feel better that Dell is buying EqualLogic now than we would have two or three years ago," Jodoin said.

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